How to Make an Agile Transformation Stick

Previously, I wrote about top-down and bottom-up Agile transformations. After the organization has started their transformation, it is important to make sure that the teams and organization are not slipping back into their old habits. Especially if Agile is new, it is easy to regress. It’s critical to stick with it so the teams and organization can get the most out of the transformation. Below are three focus areas that I believe are important to help a transformation gain steam and then begin to make lasting change.

Those who are not familiar with Agile need to be educated, and those who are familiar with Agile should continue their education. Identify areas within the organization that could be improved and explain how Agile methodologies can make a positive impact. Create an Agile champions team and encourage Agile ambassadors to spread the word or hold lunch and learns. Invite people to attend the daily scrum and look at the burndown chart so they start to get an idea of how the teams operate. Engage others and encourage their teams to become Agile.

An organization is not going to transform over night. Or in a week. Or in a month. Set expectations that the process will take time, but remind people that the team is completing work and inspecting and adapting regularly, so they will be able to provide feedback and see continuous improvement. Let people know that Agile brings a level of transparency that will help make challenges visible early on. Bringing Agile into an organization can be a culture change, so be patient.

From an executive level, let the team know that you are behind them and support what they are doing. That is important and can make a difference by letting the team feel comfortable and confident to try new things, learn and get better. From a team level, be willing to engage with management and explain what you are doing. Justify why pair programming is helpful and not a waste of time. Explain the importance of having the team sit in the same room. Also, don’t undervalue the importance of Agile coaches. They help get teams up and running, but also make sure that teams are continually improving and performing at a high level – not just flatlining and being content.

Education, patience and support. Do you have any other ideas on how to make an Agile transformation stick?

Agile Transformations… Top-Down or Bottom-Up Support?

When organizations and teams begin an Agile transformation, there is typically one person or group that is leading the charge. Does it matter if the push towards Agile is coming from the top or the bottom? Below, I will briefly discuss each and talk about which I think is more important.

Bottom-up support

By bottom-up support, I mean that the team is excited about and supports the use of Agile. Perhaps a developer came from a startup where they were lean and used Kanban. Maybe someone heard about Scrum, researched it and convinced the team to try it. Either way, having buy-in at the team level is great because these are the people actually doing the work. They are the ones who live and breath it every day. They use the process and identify ways to improve it.

Top-down support

By top-down support, I mean that the leadership team is excited about and supports the use of Agile. Perhaps an executive heard an Agile success story or learned about Agile at a conference. They want to get the product to market faster so they can get feedback from customers. They want to adapt better to changing requirements. And they want motivated teams that enjoy coming into the office.

Which is more important?

To build a good product, you need good teams. Bottom-up support brings a lot of commitment and accountability among team members. Typically, the team is very responsive, willing to experiment, learn and adapt their process. Team members are passionate because they are empowered, allowed to be creative and make decisions about how to do their work. However, bottom-up support is not always enough. To continue to feel safe and become as high performing as they can be, teams need leadership encouragement and support. Not to mention, leadership needs to continue to pay the bills, hire Agile coaches and remove organizational impediments so that teams can be successful.

Top-down transformations can be exciting but also seem imposed. Exciting because when leadership is on board, the team will feel empowered and there is a better chance that the cultural changes necessary for a successful transformation will take place. Imposed because not all team members want to be Agile – it’s simply not for everyone – so there can be pushback. However, after a while, most teams prefer Agile, so leadership needs to communicate the benefits and explain what specific problems Agile will help solve. Agile is fast paced, collaborative and requires accountability, so leadership needs to provide conditions where the team can thrive and succeed. Many times, explaining the reasons for Agile, communicating support and getting out of the way is enough.

So, which is more important? I’m not sure that one is more important than the other. They both provide their own value and go hand in hand. I believe that a combination of both is best.

Eventually, an Agile transformation that started at the team level will need leadership support. And equally important, a transformation that started at the leadership level will need buy-in at the team level. If leadership shows that they are willing to provide support and be patient during an Agile transformation, the team will feel safe and empowered to reach their full potential.

Which do you think is more important… top-down or bottom-up support?